2 Corinthians 12:1-4 1 It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
In my last article we established Paul’s love and devotion for Christ, as a foundation for the revelations and visions he received from the Lord. Concerning the contents of this vison, we know he saw the very dwelling place of the throne of God.
Contrary to others who have seen the glory of the LORD, such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and even John the apostle in Revelation, we are not given a window into Paul’s immediate response. What is revealed is the nature of this vision in concert with all the other revelation Paul received, made him particularly venerable to the carnality of pride.
Remember II Corinthians 12:1-10 is in a section of 2 chapters, where Paul is defending his apostleship from false teachers, prophets and apostles. Despite this fact, he does not include the vision as a mean to elevate himself, but to reveal, visions without proper chastisement from God, can lead to spiritual pride and shipwreck.
The apostolic character trait that set Paul apart was not his knowledge of the scripture–the visions and revelations he received–the number of people he converted to disciples of Christ–or the special miracles he did. It was his absolute dependence on the LORD for grace, power and sustaining strength.
In fact, all the great works accomplished through Paul, arose from his absolute dependence on the Holy Spirit, his faith in God’s word and his willingness to live for Christ, even if it meant dying (Philippians 1:19-21). This is why Paul reports in defense of his apostleship, and concerning the vision “Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities.“
Even in this boast the apostle could take no credit, for if it were not for the LORD ordering a specific chastisement, Paul may have ended poorly, in a prideful and sinful state. In II Corinthians 12:7 the servant of God reports “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.”
What this reveals to us is that…
- Being blessed by God with giftedness for ministry does not afford us with prestige, but often necessary pain.
- Having revelation from God is not about gain, but the necessary loss of instant gratification.
- Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not about authority to direct others, but having faith to persevere through trial as a model to others.
From Paul’s experience we can see that the Lord had a specific chastisement for him “a thorn in his flesh“, a messenger from Satan to to buffet (or repeatedly give a blow), for the purpose of keeping Paul humble, dependent on the Lord alone.
When Paul reveals the thorn was “given to me“, it means God allowed the enemy to touch Paul’s flesh in a particular way. The use of the word flesh, in context could mean his physical body or his old man, which was crucified, but hanging around like a dead body. Many have attempted to figure out what the “thorn” was, this knowledge is ultimately not that important.
What is important is how it made the apostle feel, as the enemy would use the weakness as an occasion to shame, criticize and discourage Paul from God’s will. It is likely that the messenger was a particular false apostle or collection of them, who saw this “thorn in the flesh” and would lambaste the man. This would be in an effort to discredit him. It is likely that satanic and demonic assaults on his mind would occur accusing him of the same. It is also likely his own stinking thinking would blare like a broken record.
The outcome of this buffeting upon the servant of the Lord, was a chorus declaring…
“You are unqualified”
“No one believes what you say”
“You can heal other in Jesus name, but you can’t heal yourself”
“God has forgotten you and your pain and shame reveal it”
We ought to be careful of placing ourselves inside of Paul’s experience, but for anyone who truly desires to make the Lord Jesus Christ know, you know some of this painful and demoralizing messaging from Satan.
What is often difficult to wrap our minds around is that God designed this particular trial, specifically for the apostle and He designs specific chastisements for you and I as well.
One way of embracing this truth is to remember that the Lord’s chastisement are not always a result of our doing something wrong, but because we desiring to serve Him more. What did Paul do that was wrong or sinful? Nothing, he was given a vision because he was sold out to Christ in love and faithfulness. It was his heart to know Christ, that needed sanctification from hidden pride.
I encourage you to read the book of Hebrews, especially all of chapter 12. In many cases people can recite most of Hebrews 12:1-3, yet, miss the context and message of the chapter, yeah the entire book. That message is to be faithful to Christ regardless of the trial or persecution, they are chastisements we need to have strong powerful faith.
Despite knowing these truths, like Paul we may seek the removal of the pain or difficulty. This is normal, until the LORD gives us and answer.
2 Corinthians 12:8-9 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
My scriptural advice for any illness or persistent period of pain or pressure is to seek the Lord for resolution, but be listening to His speaking back, for He may say “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness“.
This is true for healing of sickness or physical or emotional pain. Often we ask and being impatient with the delay, we run to human methods for relief, believing it to be God’s way. This is problematic.
Consider that if the “thorn” in Paul’s flesh was a physical ailment or brokenness, and rather than wait for an answer, he sought out some of Luke’s old Greek physician friends for resolution. To do that would have been walking outside of God’s will.
God wanted Paul to trust Him and allow grace to be the means of his relief and empowerment. In this state, the physical condition is known by others, but they can also see Paul unaffected when ministering and living for Christ. This is because
God’s power rested upon and filled Paul, as he trusted God.
We ought to learn this now, rather than when all our human American crutches are taken away from us in the coming tribulation.
What will we do when we have no pain relief, have to trust Him for daily bread and find ourselves outnumbered and overmatched, and still called to proclaim Christ? In that weakness we can find an even fuller effectiveness if we learn the lesson of boasting in our weaknesses.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul learned that boasting in those things we cannot control or change, even in ourselves, is the door by which we are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. This is contrary to much of Christian culture in the world.
We seek degrees and training to strengthen weaknesses, and find we need more training and further degrees.
We seek to change our presentation to the world around us and gather the things we lack, that will endear us to those we desire to come to our building and programs.
We are continually looking to become stronger, not in Christ, but in relevancy to those who if we are honest, do not love the Lord Jesus Christ, but are looking to be pandered to.
The time has come to boast in our weaknesses and rejoice in the power of God. The world around us does not need great preachers with better diction or better building with more modern accouterments. They need God’s people, who are foolish, weak, ignoble, and simply normal, to be filled with love and fire for the Christ who redeemed them.
Stop looking to improve yourself, boast in your weakness and as the power of God’s Spirit fills you. Boast in the greatness of God and His redemption through Christ’s death and resurrection, as you call the world to repentance and faith in Him. And remember…
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.
The last time I checked, you and I resemble those remarks, isn’t it about time, we allow God to show them His glorious Son through our lives?